Presented on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at the Quarry Farm Barn. Kerry Driscoll is a Professor of English at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT and the current president of the Mark Twain Circle of America. She is the recipient of a 2007 faculty research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a book manuscript in progress, Mark Twain among the Indians, an examination of the writer’s attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans throughout his career. In the summer of 2011, she directed a three week-long NEH Institute for secondary teachers on “Mark Twain and the Culture of Progress,” under the aegis of Hartford’s Mark Twain House and Museum.
At 700+ pages, Following the Equator is Mark Twain’s longest book. Yet, despite this, it is far from a comprehensive account of the writer’s 1895-96 world lecture tour, during which he visited the farflung outposts of the British Empire—Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa. The travelogue in fact offers a skewed, strangely elliptical narrative of his journey in which key personal information is suppressed. Twain, for example, names a number of obscure individuals he met along the way, but never fully introduces or contextualizes them; similarly, he provides detailed descriptions of unusual artifacts he saw, but neglects to identify the venue where they were displayed. This talk reconstructs the untold story of the five weeks in November-December 1895 that Clemens, his wife, and daughter spent in New Zealand, documenting where exactly the writer went, what he saw, and most importantly, how he interpreted it. Specifically, Twain’s exposure to the customs and culture of the colony’s remarkable indigenous people, the Maori—whom he deemed “a superior breed of savages”—produced an epiphany that transformed his thinking about race.